Surviving the Wait: A Downton Abbey Series 3 Wishlist

Sadly, the highly-anticipated third series of Downton Abbey won’t air in the States until early January 2013, but our lucky duck friends in the UK are already watching all the latest Crawley drama as we speak. (Series 3 premiered in the UK last weekend and Episode 2 airs tonight.) 

Personally, I have spent the past week studiously screening any entertainment news post with Downton in the title, avoiding popular blogs and cracking down viciously on my Twitter lists, because I wanted to get my Series 3 thoughts down on paper (er…so to speak) without getting spoiled first. It’s been something of a challenge, but here we are. While we’ll have to wait a few months to find out how accurate this list will turn out to be, what better way to pass the time until we can see Series 3 than by speculating wildly about what we’d like to happen in it. Right? Right.

Click through for thoughts on what I’d like to see happen in Downton Abbey Series 3 and add your own in the comments. I can’t guarantee that I’ll manage to stay spoiler-free the whole way through the wait until January, but in the interest of protecting others – please put spoiler warnings around things that could give away plot points, should you mention them in the midst of this discussion. All caps will do, if we have to!

Going by some of the things that have popped up in the press in the weeks leading up to the Downton premiere, I think it’s safe to say that this season already sounds that it will be more focused and evenly paced than Series 2 – which, as we all know, were the problems that formed the bulk of my complaints about last season.  This says good things to me about the likely quality of the third series and gives me hope that some of the items on this list may actually come to pass.

My ideal Downton Abbey Series 3 would feature all or at least some of the following:

More Maggie Smith, all the time. It’s irrelevant what the Dowager Countess is doing, as long as she’s doing something that involves her being onscreen a lot. Maggie Smith is, in so many ways, the best part of Downton and wouldn’t we all love to see Lady Violet’s character explored in a bit more depth? Obviously, a main draw of this season is Smith facing off against newcomer Shirley MacLaine, but here’s hoping that the inevitable catfights will provide more context and depth for Lady Violet. (Let’s be real, she’s the one we care about here, right?)

Given that Downton Series 3 is set in the early 1920s, it logically follows that Violet’s character is the one who is likely to feel most at sea in this new post-war era that doesn’t respect any of the same things she does any longer. What is the Dowager Countess’s place in this new world order? Wouldn’t that just be awesome to explore?

Matthew and Mary get married. Even at their most poorly written – or during their most ludicrous storyline (i.e. dead Lavinia means they have to be miserable forever, what?) – Matthew and Mary’s relationship has been one of the most compelling stories on Downton and after two seasons of will-they-won’t-they-angst, they deserve some happiness, and viewers deserve a little bit of payoff. The two of them together are by far more interesting than either of them apart, and here’s hoping that by ending the constant will they ever be together angst, we can move on to exploring what their relationship is actually like. Matthew and Mary are such different people – and come from such different backgrounds – that there’s still plenty of story to be had in exploring how the two of them navigate building a life together.

Branson becomes less of a caricature. The fact that early trailers feature Branson quite heavily and Julian Fellowes has mentioned repeatedly that “the Irish Troubles” are a major plot point for the season are both hopeful indicators that Branson will actually become a real boy in Series 3. Last season, Branson was one of the most inconsistent and irritating characters onscreen – missing first place only by virtue of the fact that Daisy spent about four episodes harping on how she didn’t love William at all –and the constant one-note nature of his character made his courtship with Sybil hard to enjoy.  (Well, that and the lack of real screentime for their romance.) Since he and Sybil are married now – though sadly, for fans, we appear to have missed their wedding entirely – it would be nice to actually see him as a person instead of a stand-in for “radical idea of the week.” Hopefully, his sudden elevation to “upstairs” status will create lots of interesting avenues to explore for him, as Branson will doubtless wrestle with this substantial change.

Sybil and Branson stop being irritating. Relatedly, now that Downton has committed to the idea of Sybil and Branson together, perhaps their relationship can actually get fleshed out in a realistic way. It would be lovely to actually get to see some of Sybil's point of view this season, and perhaps arrive at a clearer understanding of why she makes the choices she does and what she really wants. What does Sybil’s life look like now? Has she at all regretted her impetuous insistence that the life she knew before the war was meaningless? Does she miss it? How do the two of them – who are so very different, and didn’t seem to know each other hardly at all – make a marriage work? How has their marriage impacted her relationship with her family? Since we spent so little time on how Sybil and Branson got together – surely their relationship must have had more to it than those infrequent meetings in the Honestly, Does That Car Ever Run Garage – it would be lovely if we could get to know them a bit better now that they are together.

Cora gets something meaningful to do. Poor Elizabeth McGovern. Cora’s entire Series 2 storyline was basically limited to sniping with Isabel, trying to manipulate Mary’s life and  getting Spanish flu. While I don’t really want the overly soapy drama that would result from her learning that Robert had a small almost-fling with that housemaid whose name I’ve already forgotten, I would like to see Cora actually have a storyline with heft to it this season. I’m hopeful that the arrival of her mother – particularly since Cora seems so unlike her, going by the snippets we’ve seen in the trailer – and the loss of the Crawley fortune will allow Cora’s American sensibilities to shine. It would be really nice to like her again!

We trim some of the secondary cast. Downton Abbey has become a bit unwieldy in terms of cast size, in my opinion. With the arrival of MacLaine’s Martha, at least two new footmen and a new girl who appears to be Martha’s maid, the numbers are already swelling for Series 3. It would be lovely if we could write off some of the outliers and streamline the storyline focus for this season. One of the problems with Series 2 was that there were so many characters to deal with, and smaller numbers mean that we’re more likely to see real storylines for everyone and spend less time with our favorites . What story is their left to tell for Ethel, after all?

Bates stops suffering so much. This one seems unlikely, since it’s obvious that one of the big storylines this season is going to be the attempt to “Free Bates!”, but here’s hoping that the Bates and Anna plot serves some purpose other than watching the two of them be miserable and pine for one another. This couple has gotten about six minutes of happiness, in total, and at some point, watching them suffer and angst isn’t going to be very interesting anymore. Let’s wrap up the Vera murder plot quickly, please?

How about you all? What do you most want to see in Series 3 of Downton? What are you most hoping they’ll avoid?

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